why do we lie to our kids?

I recently saw this video by TIBCO CEO Vivek Ranadivé about why lying to our kids is bad. The underlying argument is that in doing so you are eroding America’s ability to compete against countries such as India and China in the future as this behavior destroys competitive nature in children. Ranadive tells us about ‘little Johnny’ the hapless softball player that, despite repeatedly missing the ball, is congratulated for a great swing. It clearly wasn’t a great swing but everyone cheers regardless. This story of a group of parents apparently lying to Johnny sets up the argument.

OK I agree we shouldn’t lie to our kids but I want to challenge the premise of the argument used in the video. Maybe this does happen all the time just not anywhere I go, nor with any of the family activities my family and I get involved in. In fact this recent report from the BBC suggests our children are under pressure to be competitive, maybe it’s just in the UK.

I write about this now after seeing this discussion on LinkedIn in the same week and made a connection. Here the thread starter uses a story, that turns out to be an urban myth, in order to make a point. For me, the fact that the story is not even true puts the whole argument in question. The discussion that took place followed two threads, one about whether the story was indeed true and one about how simple solutions are better than complex solutions, which in turn spawned a series of further anecdotes of dubious origin. I found the former thread much more interesting.

In the case of whether simple or complex solutions to business problems are better, I find it hard to understand how so many contributors could claim one side, or the other, based on the limited amount of information available. In fact everyone blindly, in my view, agreed that simple trumps complex every time. The argument that people can, and frequently do, overcomplicate things may well be true but to be discussing it without even a real story to analyze seems like a complete waste of time.

Why do so many well educated, and clearly bright people, waste their time taking part in  pointless discussions based on myth?

I’ve referenced Daniel Kahneman before and will here again, the problem is that it’s easier for us to accept a story that sounds probable, and we like a good story, than to question its validity. What Kahneman calls “the illusion of validity”. We come up with interesting hypothesis but instead of ‘really’ testing them it’s easier to make up a good story that apparently confirms your argument. When written in a blog or other article it takes a certain type of reader to challenge these assumptions and those people don’t turn up as often as you might think. That is of course if your readers are even allowed to comment, and if this is published in a trusted news source there’s even less chance anyone will question it.


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